Topeka Kansas’ Republican attorney general will be allowed to participate in a redistricting lawsuit, three federal judges ruled Thursday, but only to weigh in on fees lawyers will seek after the case ends.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt has said he wants to prevent the state from paying unreasonable legal fees. Schmidt will be a defendant, along with Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also a Republican, who has said the current political boundaries are unacceptable because the state’s population has shifted over the past decade.
The Legislature adjourned Sunday without approving new maps for the congressional, state House and Senate and State Board of Education districts. The impasse was caused by a bitter feud among Republicans over new Senate districts and whether they’re drawn to help GOP moderates keep control of the chamber and check conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s agenda.
With Schmidt’s addition, the judges are allowing 27 individuals — including key figures in the Legislature’s rancorous debate — to participate. Kobach and Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe who filed the lawsuit earlier this month, are also involved. Court records listed 35 attorneys Thursday as representing various parties.
The judges had a short phone conference hearing Thursday, and a trial is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan. The state’s candidate filing deadline is June 11, and the primary election is Aug. 7.
Schmidt spokesman Jeff Wagaman said the attorney general was pleased with the ruling. Deputy Attorney General Jeff Chanay told the judges that Schmidt’s office did not intend to present evidence on any redistricting proposals.
“We would simply be an observer on those points,” he said.
The only objection to Schmidt’s participation came jointly from state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, and former state Rep. Bill Roy Jr., of Lenexa, who both were allowed to intervene.
One of their attorneys, Steven Smith, said Kobach and his attorney could “easily” handle issues about legal fees — which Kobach disputes.
The state could face paying other parties’ fees because Essex filed her lawsuit over deviations in the populations of existing districts — past federal court rulings require districts to be as equal in population as possible. State officials, including Kobach, concede that the current lines, drawn in 2002, do not meet constitutional standards.
Smith said if Kobach feels fees sought by attorneys are unreasonable, “It doesn’t require two state officials to come in and make that same argument.” Still, he acknowleged that Davis’ and Roy’s case wouldn’t be unfairly harmed if Schmidt’s involvement was limited to issues involving legal fees.